Rescue, Rehabilitation and Relationship
I would like to introduce you to Libby.
Boston Terrier/ pit bull mix
She was a dog who was picked up on the streets in California as a 5 month old stray, and wound up in a local shelter. Local for her was Orange County California. She was scheduled to be PTS. Held for the required time to allow original owners to claim her, but considered unadoptable because of a cosmetic deformity.
She has a cleft palette and double harelip.
Because of her wonderful personality, a woman from a rescue organization pulled her from the shelter, and put her into a foster home to evaluate her and help her find permanent home.
Within 2 months, while in the rescue system, she found herself in several different fosters homes, and halfway across the country.
Everyone who spent a little time with her, found her to be a wonderful, sweet, fun, loving dog. Anyone who spent a lot of time with her found her to be quite a handful. Sometimes normally friendly dogs, would become aggressive towards her, and even attack her, because of her very high energy, and inappropriate, excessively excitable, social and greeting behavior.
Each time she experienced these situations, her anxiety behaviors got worse. All this by 7 months old.
At the same time there were several different dogs I was considering for adoption to add to my family. After deciding that 2 of the dogs would find new owners much more easily than her, I decided on 'Sailor' (Libby's name at the time).
I guess I thought I needed a project.
And, in memory of my dog Willie who had recently passed away, I wanted to adopt a dog that needed. Special needs I guess. She was becoming even more unlikely to be adopted by the day because her needs were difficult to meet in her current situation and even the rescue organization was losing hope for her. The longer she went without a home, the more stressed she got.
After completing her journey across the country, I picked Libby up from the airport in NJ. On the way home, a 5 hour drive, Libby sat politely on the back seat watching out the window most of the way home, when she wasn't sleeping. She didn't even get car sick. I thought, maybe they were exaggerating about her behavior. What an angel!
I had forgotten, I had only spent a little time with her.
What I soon found, is that they were not exaggerating. They actually softened the rough edges quite a bit. They also, either never fully evaluated her, or they had just left out a few of the details.
I think, all of the above.
"High energy" was definitely not a descriptive enough term for this dog. And she had extremely high prey/chase drive towards other animals (cats, squirrels, chickens). This behavior tends to go along with high energy dogs. If this is how she approached other dogs, no wonder other dogs didn't like her.
Okay, no problem.
Severe restraint issues, found by attempting to cut nails, and submissive urination, was surely known. Several days after adopting her, we had to have 2 stitches removed from her spay incision. She was only 27 pounds and it took 5 people to restrain her. Clearly this was going to be an issue as well. Her lack of trust in being restrained would surely be stress for her every time she needed to have her nails done, or anything else, like a vet visit or being groomed. Something like that was important to me for her to overcome. I wanted her to trust me to do anything. And not to be afraid if, it was something I could help.
She was quite a handful. But I got her over her issues fairly quickly. Many of her worst issues had significantly improved in less than two weeks! And she is, the sweetest, happiest dog you would ever want to meet. Although her enthusiasm for attention is sometimes a little hard for her to handle.
Libby now tips the scales around 40 pounds.
She is very smart, and learns quickly. But is one to really keep on top of since, being so smart, the bad stuff is learned just as easily as the good stuff.
But she has come a long way.
And she has brought me a long way... to discovering new ways to tire her out! The old adage "a tired dog is a happy dog"... should really be... a tired dog equals a happy owner.
In more ways than one!
1. No chewed up stuff.
2. No barking and whining.
3. No hot laps, banking off sofa, walls and cabinets
4. No dragging me down the street.
100. I have lost 25 pounds!
I am a happy dog owner... and I own a happy dog!
She has passed her Temperament Test (TT) given by the American Temperament Test Society.
I would like her to become a therapy dog in a children's hospital. I think she would really enjoy that too. But time gets the best of all of us, so who knows if we will reach that goal. It doesn't matter. One has to have goals.
Libby also enjoys weightpulling and has started agility training, but due to a congenital birth defect discovered in her spine, these activities are modified to exercises that enrich her mentally and physically according to her needs, safely. All of these things helps vent her everlasting energy supply. Maybe your dog would enjoy some of these things too
Meet Wyatt. Border Terrier
He was a puppy, who was just a bad match for his first home. His first owner was not an inexperienced dog owner, and was not inexperienced with terriers.
Unfortunately she had never had a dog like Wyatt. He is an extremely high energy dog. He was 6 months old and just out of control. He was a very disrespectful adolescent who had NO self control. Frequently biting his owner in play to make her move her feet and entertain him, and biting willfully, and with intent, when she would try to restrain him or stop unwanted behavior.
This was NOT puppy behavior which was going to get better with age. And at 5 months old, the severity of his behavior already needed to be taken very seriously.
His groomer was seeing the behavior the owner was dealing with on a daily basis and talked to his breeder to get help with the situation.
Of course being a responsible breeder she was very concerned about the puppy she produced, and the owner getting the pet she desired.
The breeder also knew excess energy was the root cause of most of the problems and the owners personality and lifestyle was not going to be compatible with this dogs' energy level and strong temperament. She knew he needed a job and an owner that could give him the structure he needed.
I try to explain it like this. Excess energy comes out the mouth... barking, biting, whining, chewing... and energy also comes out upwards... with jumping. Also, dogs do what works... for them. His behavior was definitely working for what he wanted. But not if he wanted to stay in a home. What he was doing is why MANY dogs wind up in shelters or on the street. And it was not caused by his previous owner.
Many people call Wyatt a "rescue" because I am not his first home. But he is not a rescue. He was not abused or neglected in any way. But his behavior was certainly inappropriate and the same behavior in a new home (IF he could qualify for one), getting progressively worse, until he was "un-adoptable".
Maybe he was rescued from himself.
I feel that there is even a degree where the previous owner was rescued. From an unhappy life with a pet that she tried to take care of to the best of her ability, but could not provide what he needed. Because of this she would be doomed to potentially relinquish him or live with a family member who didn't trust or respect her and was willing to hurt her.
Wyatt was re-homed by a very responsible breeder, and adopted by me. Not "rescued" as I define it.
So the breeder took him back to try to find him the right home, or keep him until she did.
I had been considering adding another dog to my family, preferably a smaller dog, and a terrier. I had met some Border Terriers I liked very much.
Well, technically, Wyatt fit the bill.
When he arrived, I heard him coming from down the street. Barking his head off in the back of the van. He also was lunging and pulling at the leash and acting aggressively to any dog or animal he could see or come in contact with, from the moment he stepped out of the car.
Now I know I have the skill to deal with these problems. But that doesn't mean that I wanted to take it on as my personal pet. Nor does it mean that I am going to fall in love with this creature. None of the traits I described are inherently embraceable. Its hard to fall in love with some of these things. And I think when you are looking to adopt a new family member, that is understandable. You want to fall in love.
So I agreed to take him on for 2 weeks as a foster dog. And either I was going to see positive change, and fall in love with him, or the breeder would at the very least get back a dog who was on the road to improving his behavioral issues, so she could find him the right home.
Well needless to say, I fell in love. With a little tough love and some strict rules and boundaries and a selective reinforcement regimen, he was already on the right track and made very noticeable improvement within 48 hours!
I got to see this little monster change from what appeared to be a dominant aggressive, hyper-active individual with no self-control, and reactive issues... change into what turned out to be a sweet, sensitive, submissive, intelligent little guy that just needed the right leadership, a job, some structure, and someone who could help show him how to practice some self control.
But... it is important for you to know it wasn't magic. This guy has an exercise plan. We make sure to make a point to drain his energy, REGULARLY, in a calm way. He is a puller! No, not on his leash (well not anymore). He has a job. We call it Dragging. See the weightpull page.
He puts on his custom made harness, and he goes to work! So now instead of channeling his energy in a variety of undesirable ways, he does it by dragging a little weight, for 15-20 minutes, a few times per week.
Today he is a sweet, friendly little man with (almost) NO evidence of his mis-spent youth.
Blueberry Fields Photography
Why do we chose the dogs we do? The breed, the individual, the situation by which you came about them?
Well, in my opinion, that is all about you and what you stand to gain in your relationship.
But maybe you don't really know... yet... what your dog can teach you. The potential they have all depends on you.
Perhaps you have had a dog, or remember one you had as a child, that was just the perfect dog. It may have seemed as if you never even had to train him/her.
Well, it doesn't usually work out that way. But maybe you just won the canine lottery and had that once in a lifetime "Lassie".
But do you know what? You may have a star in the making. Maybe not the made-for-TV kind. But they each have their own special sparkle. Just for you!
Not every dog is for everyone. Size, energy level, grooming requirements, personality type are all deal breakers for the wrong owner, family or situation. But if you love your dog, and he is perfect for you... "but...". Usually those complaints are about behavior. Learned behavior, or behaviors he hasn't learned yet. Skills for lack of a better term.
You can learn to develop the relationship with your dog that you want. You will develop the communications skills necessary for that dog and their temperament. But first you need to know what he needs from you.
He isn't like your last dog.
The first thing I want to know when I evaluate a dog is his temperament. Not his breed, age or his history. They are not nearly as high on the list of criteria that affect my ability to understand what he needs from me or you.
I have not found age, breed or history (rescue or not) to be as important, although they certainly each play their own part.
All dogs need two basic things to some degree. Trust and respect. Some need more of one than the other, and to various degrees.
The effect of a dogs temperament, or their basic coping mechanism and level of environmental sensitivity, is important to know so we can understand what they need and how to provide it appropriately and thoroughly.
Trust is a big issue. A dog needs to trust his owner. He lives in a human world that he has no control over. If the owner does not know how to provide the necessary leadership that your particular dog requires, based on his individual emotional needs, the dog can not trust you to provide that. This makes a sensitive dog even more vulnerable.
I believe that a dog feels as if... "if you can control me, then you can probably control the things I am worried about".
The problem is you cant control him.
The other problem is, he doesn't trust you enough to give up his control to you.
That is one side of the coin. The other is respect. You may have a dog that doesn't respect you or others. You take up space and matter. So does he. It works both ways. But you both have to earn it. Through experience.
If you have the tools (by that I mean training knowledge, not training tools, i.e. collar etc.), and skill, based on the dogs experience with you, he will trust you and respect you.
Some people think that the dogs past experience is of utmost importance for behavior change. Especially for a Rescued dog or one with an unknown or abusive history.
That is simply the vehicle by which he has compiled his current information. His experience or lack there of, of a given situation.
If you are not the source of the perceived stress or negative experience, it is not hard to change his current association. On the other hand if you are part of the stress, if only by allowing him to experience something he perceived negative in your presence, you can still change it. It will simply require some skilled retraining to build trust and respect, so that you can have your trainer help you choose how to best sensitize him to expected behaviors and responses, and desensitize him to stressful experiences.
Libby has since passed away (2015) at the age of 11, of cancer. Her enthusiasm with which she approached every minute of her life brought happiness to me that is irreplaceable. She taught me a lot about sensitive dogs and their needs and will never be forgotten.
I will see you again someday at the rainbow bridge my baby girl.